Category Archives: Bishop George Bell

Sympathy for the Bishop of Chichester

Brother Ivo once knew a soldier who confessed that his greatest fear was being bayoneted to death by someone whose heart wasn’t in the job.

If he was going to be killed, then let it be by a professional who took pride in his efficiency, someone who got on with the job, and did it properly.

There are many jobs which we might find emotionally difficult; amongst these are trauma surgeon, funeral director, and slaughterman.

Lawyers too are used to delivering bad news. Sometimes they have to revisit their initial opinion and advise that a case that once look promising has been fatally flawed by new evidence; sometimes it is worse, that there is a known injustice, but the proof is just not there. Cancer specialists have to add a similar grim dimension to their necessary skillset. They become practiced and case hardened.

That is not the same as being cold and heartless, but professionalism comes from exposure to such problems on a regular basis.

It is worth reflecting on these examples when one contemplates the predicament of the Bishop of Chichester as he hears calls for a comprehensive review of the George Bell decision which inevitably carries the implication  that Bishop Bell’s accuser may not have the closure of which he assured her.

He will have spent time with, gained her confidence,  assured her that  all would be done properly and all that is now in question.

It is clear that he feels deeply for all victims of abuse. That is entirely right, proper and to his credit.

As he contemplates the moves at General Synod to question the processes by which the Church reached its conclusions, his mind will inevitably go to her individual need and he may well have a desire to protect her. It is hard for him, and we should be kind in our judgment and supportive with our prayers.

Yet, “Carol’s” wishes and needs cannot be determinative.

None of us know how this matter will unfold, yet the one thing of which we may be sure, is that those seeking to establish openess of process believe that this is a fundamentally important to the future integrity of the Chuch and its safeguarding responsibilities.

Pastoral care for those who come to us matters hugely but so does justice.We are enjoined to be as gentle as doves -but also as wise as serpents.

If the church leaders decide to be obdurate, we are headed for a prolonged campaign. If the Church limits it review of the case to an unsatisfying restrictive review of its processes,  without allowing fresh evidence and the possibility of a different conclusion, it will not satisfy those who have a wider and important perspective. The pain and the uncertainty for everyone not least for ” Carol” and Bishop Martin will be prolonged, and it will be prolonged because of a lack of professionalism.

As Shakespeare’ Othello agonises having resolved to kill his wife ” If ’twere to be done, tis better it be done quickly.

The Lord, St Thomas, and Bishop Bell

This morning we shall be celebrating the Apostle St Thomas, of whom little is known , but who is most famous for his displaying of doubt when told by the other apostles that Jesus has risen from the dead.

When they had told him of what they had seen, he found it inherently implausible and declares that unless he sees the evidence for himself, which he can test, by putting his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in the wound, he will not believe.

Jesus has pity on the doubting friend and makes an appearance especially for him, inviting him to do exactly as he declared he must in order to believe. ” Come, put your fingers in the holes in my hands, he says , put your hand in my side” he says.

Paradoxically, in proving that he was no wraith, no figment of their imagination, Jesus could not have been more “transparent”.

Later this coming week the Church of England General Synod will be meeting in York. Amazingly the vexed question of human sexuality to which half of its time will be devoted, may not prove to be its most heated issue.

Bishop George Bell will be defended, or perhaps more accurately the integrity of the Church will be defended. People will be asking that the Church explains openly the processes by which it came to believe that one of its 20th Century “saints” had let them down in a dreadful way, by abusing an innocent child.

It is a terrible thing to abuse a child; it is also a terrible thing to accuse somebody of the crime. To assert their guilt is hugely damaging, many would rather be accused of murder. It is not ignoble to publicly ask for proof.

The House of Lords considered the matter last Thursday, and in the course of the debate the Church’s handling of the case was described as ” slippery” and “disingenuous”. A former Archbishop, Lord Carey described the secret process that led to the conclusion as a “kangaroo court”.

In the course of the debate, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss reminded the Lords of a legal principle in such cases. The more implausible event, the more cogent will be the evidence needed to establish it.

Survival after crucifixion was inherently unbelievable. Resurrection from the dead was not credible. To believe such a thing required the most undeniable of evidence, so Jesus gave it to him, gave it to us, and today we celebrate the fact that Thomas doubted, that Jesus understood how very human it was to do that , and gave him the certainty that Thomas and we needed.

One hopes that the Church might relent in this most difficult of matters and provide as much transparency as may be consistent with protecting victim identity. It can be done and it can be done well by those who know what they are doing.

Doubt is human; it is not unreasonable where human institutions are concerned. It is especially justified in the case of a Church whose record of investigating such matters so dreadfully poor.

We need our doubting Thomas’s, for by their questions truth is revealed,